Kellyanne Conway's dissemination of an explicit image of her underage daughter is only her latest transgression.
In August of 2020 Kellyanne Conway announced that she was stepping down from her official role in the Trump administration in order to spend more time with her four children and offer them "less drama, more mama."
But that promised lack of drama never materialized. Even after Donald Trump's tumultuous departure from office, the personal drama has continued to escalate. Now it has risen to a level that includes Conway disseminating a topless image of her 16-year-old daughter on Twitter. It's worth looking back at how this all started.
Once a harsh critic of Trump, Conway was hired by Trump's first presidential campaign in the summer of 2016, becoming his most recognizable sycophant in the media before joining the administration in 2017. From those early days she offered a smiling mask of calm and composure to cover up Trump's chaos with notable quips like "we have alternative facts."
Over time, resignations and firings piled up within the administration. Not much of the inner-circle stuck around for long, but Kellyanne Conway managed to survive more than four years with Donald Trump, despite the fact that both her husband George Conway and her teenage daughter, Claudia Conway, have earned some online celebrity as vocal Trump critics.
Claudia, who identifies as a leftist and has marched in Black Lives Matter protests, is only marginally more aligned with her father — a never-Trump Republican — than her mother, and she's implored her followers not to "Stan" him. With a family so thoroughly in the public eye to maintain their prominence through such adversarial political positions seems untenably fraught.
And in August that simmering tension seemed to finally reached a boil, with Claudia Conway alleging abuse and that her mother had her arrested. Claudia, then 15 years old, reacted to her mother's slot on the RNC schedule by announcing to TikTok that she was "running away" and seeking legal emancipation from her parents — though she noted that the decision was not "because of [her] mom's job" but rather "years of childhood trauma and abuse."
That was the week that the Conways announced they were stepping back from their professional lives to focus on family concerns. George Conway withdrew from the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, and Kellyanne Conway finally resigned from the Trump administration — on paper anyway.
She still gave that speech at the Republican National Convention and continued to run media interference for Trump's 2020 campaign. And Claudia, meanwhile, has continued sharing an eclectic mix of dancing, political commentary, and family drama with her 1.6 million followers on TikTok — after her parents forced her off of her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
It's hard to imagine what life in that household must be like on a regular basis, but last week Claudia allowed the world a telling glimpse of the chaos. She shared what seemed to be a months-old recordings of her mother shouting at her.
The videos, since deleted, showed Claudia staring at the camera and calmly responding as her mother's anger reaches frightening heights off-screen. It also includes some textual commentary which identifies moments when the camera suddenly shook as the result of her mother hitting her.
It was startling footage, but heavily edited, and without much of the context necessary to understand what triggered the fight or how serious it really was. Was it substantially different than thousands of arguments unfolding right now in families that are broadly functional and fine? Aren't parents and rebellious teenagers destined to infuriate one another?
It's certainly possible that Claudia has chosen to highlight particular moments and perspectives to make her parents look like the villains...even if her mom has spent the last four years as an actual villain of American politics. Accusations that she had edited the footage to seem especially damning were quick to crop up, to which Claudia responded by offering to share "hours and hours" of similar footage.
Others insisted that she only wanted attention. But after deleting the videos, Claudia shared a tearful explanation saying that she had posted them "hoping that I might get some sort of help. But nothing's going to happen, so I deleted them."
Still, she is essentially a kid and has risen to fame by sharing her family drama. Does it make sense to take these possibly distorted snapshot moments and accusations of abuse seriously?
That question went out the window on Monday night. That was when Kellyanne Conway sent out a topless image of her daughter as a Fleet — Twitter's recently-introduced, temporary media sharing format, a la Snapchat or Instagram Stories. The Fleet was quickly deleted, but not before some users took screencaps.
Claudia Conway after finding out from her TikTok followers that this photo was circulating on Twitter, part one: https://t.co/2UqaySrxT7— Leah McElrath 🏳️🌈 (@Leah McElrath 🏳️🌈)1611636295.0
The official story seems to be that Kellyanne Conway had discovered the explicit image her daughter had taken of herself and chose to document it. It's not clear what her plan was — to confront her daughter about it, discuss it with a mental health professional, or just to have something to hold over Claudia's head if the need arose.
But something seemingly went wrong. Was it an accident, or — as Claudia's speculated to her followers — a result of hacking? In any case, the image went out as a Fleet.
But is it possible that Kellyanne Conway shared that image on purpose? Days after being humiliated by her daughter exposing her anger to the world, did she want revenge? Like her husband and her daughter, Kellyanne has proven that she is willing to adjudicate petty family fights on the national stage.
If she did share the image on purpose, she could be on the hook for distribution of child pornography — she could even be in trouble just for having the image, as would anyone who took or seeks out those screencaps. But if it was an act of revenge, it seems to have had the desired effect.
In the fallout of this awful "mistake," Claudia Conway took to TikTok to deliver a statement which she stated was not forced. That needed to be said, because it represents a dramatic shift in tone and because her mother has allegedly pushed her make exculpatory statements before...
Claudia Conway commented in this video saying she’s consulted with lawyers about emancipation, but her parents are… https://t.co/C16Mc8E6on— Def Noodles (@Def Noodles)1611098354.0
In her statement, Claudia framed their drama as standard family conflict. Stating that she knows her mom "would never put something like that on the internet," she said, "We fight like mothers and daughters, but we also love like mothers and daughters."
It's probably the most positive perspective on her family that she has ever shared. And if that weren't enough to sound like the ideal conclusion of Kellyanne's machinations, Claudia closes the video with an announcement that both of her parents have no doubt been desperate for: "I will be leaving social media for a bit to work on my relationship with my mom and my family ... I love my mom and she loves me."
Whether this is the final result of Kellyanne plotting against her own daughter or a miraculous reconciliation after an unfortunate happenstance, one thing seems clear — Claudia Conway should at least have the option to separate herself from her parents' toxicity.
She has spoken openly about her mental health struggles, including suicidality, and has previously stated that her parents are too powerful and too connected for Child Protective Services to intervene. But this incredibly public release of such a sensitive image should be the last straw.
Our daughter Claudia asked me to tweet this statement for her. https://t.co/ilH7IFqERB— George Conway (@George Conway)1611677199.0
Even if it was an accident or a hack, the fact that her mother could handle things so incautiously is bad enough. Someone with fragile mental health should not be forced to share a life with people whose lives are so publicly contentious and who could recklessly expose her to such a painful experience.
If Claudia Conway truly believes that her mom did not intend to expose her and truly wants to work on their relationship, we wish her luck. But if she wants to escape the toxic gravity of her parents dysfunctional relationship — as she has expressed before — she should be given the freedom and support to do so safely.